Sunday, 29 September 2013

No texts please, we’re British

Last night I got a text from a complete stranger.
It read: ‘Hi, it’s Anna. Just looking through my sexy dresses and can’t decide. R we going straight to bedroom and I can wear something naughty? Or u prefer more normal going out dress? Of course I will have coat on top.’
Great! I will be dining out on this one for months.
I could have had a bit of fun with my reply, but I’m sure my honest little ‘Sorry you have the wrong number’ was enough to make her squirm. It would have made me squirm, if I’d misfired a text like that.
Seriously, though, misfiring texts must be a sign of brain overload. (Anna take note).
According to a story in the Times yesterday, we are all far too overstimulated these days – with symptoms such as memory loss, speaking too quickly, slurring our words, being distracted, and feeling really tired all the time. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists one in five of us is unusually tired at any given time.
Texts, twitter and other social media are filling our heads with constant chatter, and our poor old brains just don’t know how to switch off.
The result is a near-permanent state of exhaustion that makes the brain feel like it is constantly misfiring. But we’re also producing a constant flow of stress hormones like adrenaline that make us feel so wired and hyper-alert that we do not even realise how tired we are.
The solution, if you’re one of the wired tired, is to wind down more. Give your brain a break.
It’s easier said than done, but I tried it this week – with a session of Mindfulness Meditation. One hour of silence, music, and gentle words of wisdom while we focused on our breath or a mantra in our heads.
My friend came out of it looking like she’d been on holiday for a week. She’d completely emptied her head – that’s the aim of meditation, but it’s hard to achieve.
For me thoughts had come. But mostly they were creative, like little sparks of light – often food related sparks of light (there was a leek gratin somewhere along the way) - and none had lasted longer than a couple of seconds.
The American Heart Association recommends meditation for the treatment of high blood pressure. Specifically they recommend Transcendental Meditation. But as our meditation leader, Yoga Bowers, says: ‘the many forms of meditation are like different paths leading up the same hill. They all get to the top in the end.’ 
It seems crazy, though, that we have to book a session of Mindfulness Meditation in order to calm down a head that is overloaded by texts, emails, and tweets. If taking an hour out in a meditation centre sounds too much to squeeze in, why not start by taking an hour off from your phone. Not just when it's charging. Mindfully switch off your phone, laptop, TV, and radio. Unplug your ipod. Lie on your bed and see how long you can focus on your breath going in and out. Then see how refreshed you feel when you get up.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Versatile Blogger - my nominations

Confession: I only read a very small number of blogs. And, after Healthehelen, who is my favourite, there are just 5 that I really enjoy reading. Here they are, my nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award...

. Dr John Briffa - because he's a medic who hasn't had the wool pulled over his eyes. You can always rely on John for a good, well-researched, anti-statin story.
. Zoe Harcombe - for her relentless campaign against obesity and the food companies that shamelessly promote it, including Netmums who have recently got into bed with Kellogg's.
. Rock'n'Roller Baby - whose blog about life with young children makes me wish I could go back in time and do it all differently.
. Recipe Rifle - who brings me back down to earth when Rock'n'Roller Baby is making me go mushy in the middle.
. The Frugal Cook - for coming up with a 5.2 recipe (hot smoked salmon with avocado) that makes my tummy rumble every time I think about it. 

I hope you'll enjoy these as much as I do...

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Thank you Healthehelen!

The lovely Healthehelen has nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award. I am very touched - thank you Helen!  One of the conditions of a nomination seems to be that the recipient should in turn nominate 15 favourite bloggers. I will come back to you all with my choices soon, but it goes without saying that Healthehelen will be at the top of the list as I always look forward to finding out what she's been up to - she never fails to surprise me!

My week on a plate

As regulars to this blog know, I love the fact that the 5.2 diet allows me to eat what I like five days a week and not gain weight – even if I may not lose it either. That’s important when you have a life that would make any regular diet a nightmare. But finding even two days to diet has been a challenge this week. Here’s how it panned out:
Sunday: 100th birthday party for my mum’s wonderful auntie Toysie at the lovely Grim’s Dyke Hotel in Harrow. Anticipating a buffet, we gorged on toast at breakfast – then discovered lunch was in fact a three course a la carte meal. I had goat’s cheese mousse with pear and walnut salad, seabass, and then panacotta. Later, back home, we squeezed in a roast chicken with peanut sauce, rice and salad. 
Monday: Fasting. I’d now read the directions on the Konjac capsules and they worked much more efficiently when taken correctly, half an hour before eating. Two before breakfast (a rice cake), three before lunch (soup and another rice cake), and five before supper (our usual miso broth with stir-fried vegetables and prawns). Went to bed un-hungry.
Tuesday: Greek yogurt with banana and honey, then sourdough toast for breakfast; home made smoked salmon pate with toast and green salad for lunch; and then in the evening party food – think sandwiches, koftas, chicken kebabs, cheese puffs, and wine – at a Guild of Health Writers event at the Medical Society of London. We were there to hear how our colleagues are coping with the digital revolution. Healthehelen talked us through the process of writing and publishing an E-book – her own, Gym-spiration: 52 Ways to Wake Up Your Workout, having been such a success that it is in the top 20% E-books, and deservedly so. Lack of motivation must be the number one reason we fail to stick to exercise regimes, and I could have done with Helen calling out motivational mantras behind me a couple of hours before this event, when, as a guest of Speedflex, I’d found myself unexpectedly doing a few rounds of circuit training. The first shock was when the trainer questioned whether I was really safe to take part, given the borderline hypertension I’d mentioned on the disclaimer form. That’s when I realised I really was going to be exercising, not just admiring the machines. The rather nicer shock, at the end of my session, was when I learned I’d burned 270 calories in 20 minutes – amazing! – my incentive to then eat at least 720 calories at the Guild buffet.  
Wednesday: Back on the fast – food much the same as Monday, really, although I managed to sneak in a Whey Hey ice cream at lunchtime. I diligently passed on a load of leftover pink macaroons Steve had from a recent event, and distributed them to friends at Book Group that night – Kate commenting that dieters always like to feed up those around them…
Thursday: Out again – this time at Meson Don Felipe for tapas and rose wine with other health writers. Tapas a little spartan – the odd bean and prawn passing up and down the table (much preferred the tapas at Rosita and the Sherry Bar) – so we all filled up with bread rolls and almond tart for pudding.
Friday: Lunch out at Coco Momo with my good friend Jean – grilled chicken with a superfood salad and about four chips. But Jean had brought me a selection of nutty gluten free pastries, which Steve and I later tucked into with gusto. Then supper: pasta with Steve’s homemade pesto, lots of parmesan, plenty of wine, and more of Jean’s pastries.
Saturday: Lunch out with my lovely eldest daughter, Coco Minnie – Greek salad and focaccia at the Royal Festival Hall, then half a muffin each with coffee at the Tate Modern. Another of Jean’s pastries with a cup of tea when I got home, and now I am planning supper: a red slaw salad with walnuts, orange and feta, and some cold chicken and taboulleh. 
Tomorrow I will weigh myself.

Monday, 16 September 2013

The truth about exercise

Nobody working up a sweat in the gym or doing a HealtheHelen around Disneyland or London Zoo wants to read that exercise is of little use when we want to lose weight. And I have written on this blog before that I get quite annoyed when friends use this as an excuse remain inactive. But, with John Briffa recently blogging on the subject, and Jacques Peretti devoting one of his documentaries to it, I am planning to research and write a feature on the matter soon – and, when I do, I will share my experts’ comments here.
Meantime, here are a few of my personal thoughts about exercise and weight loss…
1.   It is true that the Aquarobics class I attend is not full of sylphs.
2.   It is equally true that the Aquarobics teacher is totally sylph-like – but she does a hell of a lot of exercise, teaching a packed week of classes in which she is constantly on the go.
3.   It is surely also true that the ladies in my Aqua class would be even less sylph-like if they were doing no exercise at all…
4.   Both John Briffa and Jacques Peretti point out that two reasons exercise makes little difference is that a) calorie consumption is low unless you work extremely hard, and b) exercisers tend to feel as if they deserve a reward (in the form of food) – and many gyms foolishly offer muffins, burgers and fizzy drinks: exactly the foods that pile on the pounds, and will usually pile on more weight than your exercise class just took off.
5.   Heavy duty exercisers DO lose weight and nobody can dispute that – have you ever seen an overweight runner complete a marathon in sub 3 hours 30?
6.   Let’s not forget that exercise builds muscle, and muscle is metabolically active hence the more of it you have on your body, the more calories your body will burn. Muscle also weighs more than fat – so you may not see the difference on the scales, but you should see it in your waistband.
7.   Exercise releases feel good chemicals called endorphins and when we feel good we are more likely to want to look after our body – ie not stuff it with muffins, burgers and fizzy drinks (unless we are totally desperate and already addicted to that food). Rewards do not have to be edible – I treat myself to five minutes in the steam room (heaven) after my 20 lengths of the pool.
8.   Exercise does not always increase appetite – get it right and you will feel less hungry as a result.
9.   Exercise will never shift pounds if you consume more calories than you burn.
10.                 I find that exercising on a Monday or Thursday – when my mind is focused on the fast – means there is no risk I will raid the fridge when I get back home.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Sally Clarke, Ha Ha Ha…

pic from

What’s not to love about a diet where you can eat out and still lose weight – or at least not appear to gain any…  Still the same weight I was before and after our holiday, last night we dined at Sally Clarke’s, Kensington Church Street. The restaurant had been closed for five weeks over summer for a major refurb – new kitchen, new dining rooms, Lucien Freud art... the lot. We didn’t know this when we booked, and our table last night – three nights after the restaurant reopened its doors – came with a new “soft opening” fixed price menu, £29.50 for three courses. 
Sally Clarke’s reputation is built on her love of delicious fresh, well sourced seasonal ingredients, and, with our aperitifs, we both nibbled on divine “pizzette”  - actually triangle slices of flaky pizza with squash and taleggio -- before launching into a wonderful salad of mozzarella with slivered runner beans (not a string or tough bit to it) and toasted cob nuts. Then I had plump Cornish plaice with tomatoes, coco beans and spinach, followed by a deconstructed strawberry and blackberry trifle. My only regret – I wish I’d chosen the dark chocolate tartlet that lost the toss-up to the trifle! I didn’t know it was going to be deconstructed and what this meant, on the plate, was a strange arrangement of crème anglaise, cream, berries, and chunks of dry cake. The whole point of a trifle – I think – is that the cake becomes drenched in sherry and fruit… Some things are too good to mess with!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The cheat's 5:2?

Now one of my husband’s friends is doing the 5:2 – but his way of doing it is to eschew all food on his diet days. Not a morsel passes his lips. I have money on him giving up before he sees any weight loss.
I am still full of admiration for another friend of ours who ate no breakfast, had just miso (40 cals) for lunch, and then a “light” supper – whatever that is… But did she stick with the regime? No! She lasted two or three weeks max.
My version is dull – I now eat more or less the same things every fast day. But I am sticking with it.  It goes something like this:
. Breakfast: coffee plus rice cake.
. Lunch: rice cake or apple plus Whey Hey protein ice cream, from Holland & Barrett. Or, a large bowl of gazpacho.
. Supper: prawn and veg stir-fry (we use 1tsp of coconut fat – it doesn't burn and a little goes a long way) with Itsu miso soup, from Sainsbury. Use any stir-fryable veg that you have - I like peppers, courgettes, leeks, onions and carrots - with large raw prawns and a lot of garlic, fresh ginger and chilli. 
This is a hugely satisfying and healthy supper - albeit increasingly boring.
The idea of the 5:2 - which is still getting a lot of press two years on from its first appearance in the UK media -- is that you are more likely to stick to the diet because you don't have to think about calorie intake or 'good foods' v 'bad foods' every day of the week. Five days out of seven you are free to eat "normally". 
But what "normally" is must vary enormously between different individuals, and, as regular visitors to this blog will know, I am concerned that what we eat on the non diet days could still cause me to gain weight rather than lose it. 
With my husband being a chef, there are all sorts of interesting cuts of meat and fish - the bits he couldn't use for clients - in our freezers, and it would be a crime not to enjoy them.
When friends came for a mid-week lunch this week, we had canapés (crostinis with A. smoked salmon and white chocolate horseradish from the Hotel du Chocolat, and B. tomato concasse with homemade pesto) followed by chicken liver pate with home made onion marmalade and toasted walnut bread. Then short-ribs – a Galvin recipe – with roasted parsnips and shallot puree followed by a cheeseboard.
Yesterday I tried to compensate for our rich eating with a light supper of chicken and salad with no potatoes. 
The result was that I woke up this morning feeling absolutely ravenous, and wondering how I would get through the day - exercise class, two interviews - on my 500 calories.
And then - hallelujah! - the postman arrived with a put of Health Plus Konjac Root supplements, from Nutricentre.
I have already tried Konjac in the form of Slim Pasta, and Zero Noodles. Both times I felt like I was eating an alien - but the alien did fill me up, and, as promised, I was sated for hours. 
At £8.45 for 70 capsules the Health Plus product is not cheap: the advice is to take two before breakfast, three before lunch, and five before dinner... 
But the arrival of this product, mid-morning when I was famished, put a spring in my step and I bounced my way through my mid-day Aqua class - now not feeling hungry at all, knowing my panacea was waiting at home.
I took three capsules and then had a large bowl of gazpacho (300ml / 130 cals)... And looked forward to a long, well-sated, afternoon.
Two hours later and I have already been back to the kitchen for an apple.
I will take my Konjac again before supper - but, compared with my experience of the pasta versions, I am so far disappointed that I may not have found a way to cheat my way through the 5:2 after all...

Saturday, 7 September 2013

What a load of old rubbish

Thursday was – we’d been warned – the last day of summer. As predicted, yesterday was cooler, darker and wetter. And today – with just me and the dog at home – is the perfect kind of day for sorting out the boggling amount of paperwork that has been clogging up my filing cabinet for the last decade. Here’s what I’ve learned as a result:
1)    Tidy people have too much time on their hands. It has taken me 10 years to get round to sorting some of this stuff out.
2)    I could have spent this time doing the 7 mile circuit of Richmond Park with the dog!
3)    Now I know why my retired friends have such tidy homes – they have too little else to occupy them.
4)    I will never again be jealous of a tidy home! The prospect of retiring and having the time to keep on top of paperwork is truly scary.
5)    Piles of unsorted papers remind us that we have more important things to do with our time.
6)    Piles of unsorted papers are also a source of stress – because we are reminded that we have more important things to do with our time.
7)    Being tidy requires ruthlessness. It is hard to throw away a letter from your sponsor child in Africa, or a batch of 40th birthday cards – even when we do not plan to look at them again.
8)    We hang on to papers, pictures and cards because we love the memories they bring when we occasionally turn them up during a search for something else. One of those birthday cards was from a dear friend who died last year.
9)    These occasional gems – such as the childhood journals my daughter wrote on our holidays – can be so engrossing that they lead us to forget what it was we were meant to be looking for.
10) It may be another 10 years before some of these gems surface again.
11) Hoarding is a sign of sentimentality. We keep things that do not interest us today, imagining they may become more interesting in the future.
12) My daughters’ school reports from when they were 9 or 10 years old will be as dull in 10 years time as they are now – so I must be mad to hang on to them.
13) I must be nurturing the dream that my daughters are one day famous and being interviewed about the contents of their school reports at 9 or 10 years old. 
14) I must be deluded.
15) Having found the time for this sort out has made me nostalgic for the years when I was rushed off my feet with young children and far too busy even to read some of the correspondence that surfaced.
16) Letters should really be dealt with on the day they arrive, and not put on a to-do pile for later.
17) Ten years is too long to have ignored three missives alerting us to the fact that the solicitor who dealt with the purchase of our house has since been struck off…
18) I don’t even like to think too much about what number 17, above means.
19) Hoarding and procrastinating is a way of burying one’s head in the sand.
20) Trying to locate an important document from a bulging filing cabinet is stressful and time consuming and has caused many a tantrum in my home-office. I pay more heed to number 16.